Layer masking

Layer masking is a very important and power full tool which Photoshop has to offer. This tutorial is based on Photoshop CS5. If you are using the any different version, you should still be able follow this technique from what I’m going to show you now.

What’s layer masking?
Simple of way of explaining this is, imagine you take two pictures and place them one above the other. There are elements in the bottom picture that you want to include in the picture on top. So what do you do? You cut those parts or just poke through that area from the top picture to reveal the one at the bottom. And once you’re done, you glue those images together and produce one single image. This is the fundamental of masking. I use this technique in most of my photographs and digital art.

I’m going to use these two images shown below to explain to apply layer masking in Photoshop.

Image 1:

Image 2:

You can see that the first image has the word Irfan, the second image has the word Hussain. I want both of them to appear in the same image. So here’s what I’m going to do. In Photoshop layers, I’m going to place image 1 on image 2 then poke through the layer of image 1 to reveal that which I need from image 2 and stick them together to get the output like below.

Let’s see how to apply this in Photoshop.

Importing images in Photoshop layers.
There are a number of ways in which you can do this. The one which I’m going to show you is simple and I use this method the most.

  1. Click on the bridge icon. You should see this as an icon with letters BR embedded in it on the top left corner. It turns to red when you mouse over it.
  2. This will open up a window as I’ve shown below. Navigate to the folder where you have the images and select them. Selection in bridge works in the same way as you would do while browsing through files and selecting to copy-paste or move files or folders from one location to another.
  3. Now got to tools, Photoshop, load files into Photoshop layers.
  4.  This will load the images in Photoshop layers. You will be able to see it in the bottom right corner. You will be able to drag and move the layers to change the position as to which one you want to place on top and which one you want to place at the bottom. I’m going to place image 1 on top and image 2 below it.
  5. Select the image 1 layer as shown above by clicking on it. You will be able to see tiny little icons at the very bottom right most edge of the above screen shot. It’s also the very bottom right most edge of your Photoshop window. Here, beside the fx icon you can see one more tiny little icon shaped like a rectangle with a circle in it.  Click on this icon to create a mask on image 1. The screen will change as shown below to indicate that mask has been created.
  6. Now select the brush tool. you can click on the brush icon on the tool bar or simply hit ‘b’ on the key board. Make sure that the fore-ground colour is black and the Back Ground colour is white as shown below. You might want to choose a softer brush when you are using this technique on more complex images so that you get a more pleasing finish.

  7. On the right side of the screen, on top of the layers, you’ll see a slider that says opacity. Reduce it a little to reduce the opacity of image 1 and faintly reveal image 2 placed behind. This will give you an idea as to where you’ve got to poke through image 1 and reveal the selected parts in image 2.

  8. Now stroke on the image with the brush where you can see the word Hussain to completely reveal it. You might want to adjust the opacity of the brush in case you want to faintly reveal the image from the mask below. You can do so by adjusting the brush opacity slider that you will see on top of the screen below the view menu.
  9. Continue stroking on the mask with the brush until you can see that the details from the image 2 behind are revealed.
  10. Remember back in step 7 we reduced the opacity of the image 1 layer? Change it back to 100% once you are done with the brushing. This you will get the final out put.

This is a basic tool in Photoshop and depending on how it’s used, lots of crazy fun stuff can be done with photos. I use this technique in a lot of my digital art and HDR processing. I’ve also written a Tutorial on HDR Processing. Do take a look.

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